PHIL 3330
Metaphysics

Universals

(Readings from Loux, Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings)

The debate between Monism and Pluralism concerns how many particulars there are. The problem of universals concerns, rather, how many kinds of things there are. In particular, are there both particulars and universals, or can we get by with just one or the other?

The readings we've done so far pretty much assume that there are particulars, and ask whether we also need to admit that there are universals. (One could start the other way round, as Hume does, and ask whether we can't make do with only universals, understanding particulars as "bundles" of universals.)

The readings so far contrasted two metaphysical views: Realism and Nominalism. (Two of the readings also mention a third medieval view, Conceptualism, which in some ways is in between the other two.)

  Realism Nominalism
Definition There are universals as well as particulars. These universals are objective, mind-independent entities. There are no universals, only particulars.
By virtue of what does a predicate (e.g. "round" or "white") applies to multiple things? A predicate applies to more than one thing if it expresses a universal, and the things are all instances of the universal. Resemblance Nominalism (Price): resemblances are a basic characteristic of the universe, and don't need to be explained by universals
Problem 1 How can this view accommodate the fact that some things are only sort of white or round or whatever? Things aren't white because they resemble each other, period; they are white because they resemble each other in a particular respect. But to
Response to Problem 1 We must distinguish determinables from determinates. For each predicate, there are some paradigm instances. The predicate applies to a non-paradigm thing if and only if that thing resembles the paradigms at least as closely as they resemble one another.
critique of the response   Hard to see how this can avoid circularity: how are the paradigms selected in the first place?
Problem 2   the relation of resemblance itself seems to be a universal of relation.
Response to Problem 2   no, we can apply the resemblance theory to the relation of resemblance as well. Resemblance is a second-order resemblance between things.

 



Last update: January 25, 2005
Curtis Brown | Metaphysics | Philosophy Department | Trinity University
cbrown@trinity.edu